WILSON: GOP primary rule debate concerns who selects delegates

Posted: Sep. 1, 2011 2:54 pm Updated: Nov. 29, 2014 6:16 am

Illinois Republicans are divided on how to run the GOP presidential primary next year.

If you haven't heard this, you're not alone. The issue was discussed by the GOP State Central Committee in a closed session about two weeks ago. There has been some publicity, but not much.

"I have not heard the arguments, so I don't really have any comment," Randy Frese, chairman of the Adams County Republican Central Committee, said last week.

Those who do know about the proposed changes have been vocal on both sides of the issue.

Doug Ibendahl of Republican Young Professionals got a copy of the proposals and sees some things he hates.

Ibendahl can support a plan that ends the Illinois "winner take all" primary system, in which the top vote-getter among Republicans gets all the state's delegate support. In fact, that change is being sought by the Republican National Committee, which wants proportional delegate numbers.

"I have no problem with that change for Illinois," Ibendahl said.

What he opposes is the plan for the State Central Committee to select the delegates, rather than allowing voters to choose them.

"What our (Republican State Central Committee) is attempting to do is piggyback a power grab along with the reasonable change," Ibendahl said.

Not so, says an unnamed columnist for Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment website. According to the Capitol Confidential writer, the Illinois GOP is trying to make the state relevant.

According to the writer, the Illinois GOP primary is a "beauty pageant" because the winner of the primary election is not assured of any delegates at the Republican National Convention. Since delegates have always run individually and are not bound to any candidate, it was always theoretically possible for the top GOP vote-getter to come away a loser if delegates did not follow through to support that candidate.

What makes Illinois "relevant" under the new rules is the idea that presidential candidates will have to come to Illinois to campaign if their fortunes rest directly with the electorate and proportional delegate counts are possible.

The Republican State Central Committee also wants to allow winner-take-all within a particular congressional district if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. And candidates with as little as 10 percent of the vote could get a portion of the weighted vote if nobody hits 50 percent.

In other words, polls showing one candidate with a huge lead would not cause other candidates to forget about campaigning in the Land of Lincoln. Coming in second or third could still be worth the effort.

But the most controversial part of the plan would give the State Central Committee the right to choose delegates -- along with help from the winning campaign or campaigns.

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford opposes that change.

"I truly believe we are better as a party in Illinois if we have delegate candidates on the ballot. It adds more people vested in the process to be advocates at our Lincoln Day dinners, party rallies and forums on behalf of their ‘preference' for president," Rutherford said.

In response, the Breitbart headline says Rutherford wants to "emasculate" the Illinois GOP and points to Rutherford's pledge to support presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as the underlying agenda.

Central Committee members argue that people who run as delegates in primaries have to get hundreds of signatures on petitions to campaign for the primary and spend lots of money to campaign in large districts. The presidential candidates also may not be enthusiastic about delegates who get picked in an election. They want people who will be committed to them and who will represent them well, the State Central Committee said.

Ibendahl doesn't buy that line of reasoning. He sees this as a way for the Central Committee to control who goes to the Republican National Convention.

Illinois Republicans believe they can continue some of the gains they made in 2010 when Republicans elected five new members of Congress.

The big question is whether they can do that with less input from Illinois voters.


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